What is it about this time of year that beckons us to eat outdoors? Maybe it’s the feel of the sun on our skin, the soft breeze brushing our face, or the soothing, quieting sounds of crickets chirping in the distance. Whatever it is, there’s just something about summer that begs for al fresco dining.
Italy’s café culture is well-known. Leisurely noshing outdoors is a much a part of our cultural identity as cobblestone streets and delicious pasta. As soon as weather permits, every restaurant proprietor and resident of any Italian town dusts off the patio furniture and opens the umbrella (or turns on the heating lamps, depending on how anxious they are to start eating outdoors!)
Our family takes dining al fresco very seriously. Each of us has spent many long, warm summers enjoying fresh fruit on blankets in the grass, early-morning espressos on the deck, and perfectly balanced wine on the patio. At our Tenuta Polvaro Estate Winery in Veneto, Italy, few things seem to call our guests stronger than the many tables and chairs arranged on the large paved patio near our restored seventeenth-century winery. Summertime is particularly ripe for a leisurely lunch or dinner on the veranda, and as soon as temperate weather begins knocking we find that everyone always ends up outside. A little more sunlight, a little less responsibility…summertime is when both we and our guests seem to linger a bit longer under the fading dusk sky, nibbling on antipasti and sipping a light, seasonally-appropriate varietal. In Italy, it’s traditional to end a great summer meal with watermelon, so we love to wash the veranda tables in candlelight and set out juicy slices of the cut fruit for our family and friends to end the night. The sweetness of the watermelon just pairs beautifully with our semi-sparkling Moscato, and the atmosphere always feels particularly festive…these experiences really make summer one of our favorite times of year to be in the wine business.
So, what makes for an ideal al fresco dining experience? The food, of course, should be casual and simple. Grilled meat or seafood and vegetables make for an easy feast, and no one ever minds when the meal is served in courses, one item at a time as it comes off the coals. Make-ahead dishes like cold pasta salads or gazpacho are another great option for entertaining outdoors. No one wants to be stuck in the kitchen while their guests sip and laugh under the sky!
Just like the food, the wine you choose for al fresco dining in summer should fit the time and place. Our favorite summertime wines include Prosecco, perfect for a celebratory toast, and Rose, just sweet enough to serve with dessert or a light lunch. For fish, other seafood and light meats, Pinot Grigio is a perfect pairing, while a light, fruity Pinot Noir works beautifully with red meat and other slightly heartier fare.
The best thing about dining outdoors, though, is that it’s hard to go wrong. The most memorable afternoons and evenings usually involve a little spontaneity, a lot of fresh air, and a perfectly-chilled bottle of whatever you have on hand. What matters most is the company, the conversation, and that indescribable feeling of letting the world pass you by.